Cooperation in the Council of the EU: Explaining network relations among member states

Författare: Johansson Markus, Larsson Olof, Lindahl Rutger, Naurin Daniel

EU decision-making requires that member states cooperate. In this European Policy Analysis, four political scientists at the University of Gothenburg analyse the patterns for cooperative relations between the member states in the Council of the EU. The authors also test different explanations for why some pairs of states form closer relations. (2023:15 epa)

For the EU to take important decisions, they must find enough support among the member state governments in the Council. Most decisions require only qualified majority support; no member state on its own can block a proposal. To influence the outcome, cooperation with other member states is therefore paramount. 

What cooperative ties do different member states form with their peers? Since 2003 a University of Gothenburg project has been investigating this: every three years, member state representatives in a selection of Council working groups and committees are surveyed on their choice of cooperation partners. The last survey was conducted in 2021.

In this analysis, four political scientists at the University of Gothenburg use member state responses to map cooperative relations in the Council. The authors – Markus Johansson (also at SIEPS), Olof Larsson, Rutger Lindahl and Daniel Naurin (also at the University of Oslo) – test explanations as to 1) why some pairs of member states form stronger ties to each other, and 2) why some states overall are more often mentioned as cooperation partners to other member states, and thus have greater so-called network capital.

Some of the key findings of the analysis include:

  • Member states’ cooperative relations are relatively stable over time and generally stronger with neighbouring states.

  • After Brexit, the Netherlands has replaced the UK in the top trio of member states that are most often mentioned as cooperation partners to others (including Germany and France).

  • Member states with similar politico-economic systems have closer cooperative ties.

  • In later rounds of the survey ideological similarity has become more important, particularly in relation to the GAL-TAN dimension and positions on European integration.